Football: Football scores for St Joe's in GAA land
Last week for the first time in its history, St. Joseph's High School of Crossmaglen took their place in the Northern Ireland Schools' Cup. And while the under-16 side was ultimately unsuccessful against St. Gabriel's of Belfast, the under-14 XI recorded a victory which may prove to be highly significant, in terms of how the sport is viewed in the GAA-dominated town.
St. Joseph's opponents on the day, in a match played at Lismore Park in Crossmaglen, were Bangor Academy. It was St. Joseph's who took the lead after 20 minutes, when Jemar Hall converted a penalty, rewarded after Alan Farrelly was fouled.
The debuting school doubled the lead before half-time, when Farrelly scored a poacher's goal, after centre-half Christopher Cunningham had caused the Bangor defence problems from a corner.
The Co Down side turned up the heat in the second-half, and only some excellent defensive work prevented a goal for the away side.
No amount of quality defending, however, would have stopped the 30-yard effort which brought the visitors back into the game. But heads did not drop, and St Joseph's were able to see out the remainder of the contest, to take them into the next round.
"The match was a big step for us," said John McMahon, the team manager.
"It was a journey into the unknown. There are several sports here, like Gaelic football, hurling, and camogie, that are ahead of football. But I wanted to give the children who don't have the same interest in the Gaelic sports, a chance to play competitively. In the match against Bangor, the plan certainly worked out well."
Round two sees Dundonald High School travel to Lismore Park, for a tie that now certainly has great intrigue. McMahon hopes that the qualities that brought them success in the first round, can do equally so in the second.
"Dundonald are a big, strong team, and to be honest, we don't expect to win," he explained.
"But they will not get it easy when they come here. In the match against Bangor, we showed excellent workrate and team spirit, qualities which you might say are also important traits in Gaelic football. Whatever happens, we will give it our best."
As for the future of football in the area, McMahon hopes that the first win will spark something in other schools that don't necessarily pay it the attention they might. Gaelic games will always be at the forefront of sporting thought here. But we would like to think that others would see us as a good example, that we can provide an opportunity for children to shine."